Calderdale Council chief executive says he 'must do better' on racial diversity

The chief executive of Calderdale Council has written an open letter to staff in light of the death of George Floyd in the US.

Wainhouse Tower, Halifax

Robin Tuddenham has reiterated the authority’s commitment to employing a diverse workforce and providing progression opportunities for BAME staff.

Mr Tuddenham said he ‘stands with’ those from ethnic minority backgrounds who have experienced racial prejudice.

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He then references a report by Public Health Impact into the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on BAME communities and the ‘structural and systemic racism’ that has led to the higher death rate.

Mr Tuddenham wrote: “The report lacked recommendations, or reference to what we know and understand to be the impact of structural and systemic racism which is the underlying factor leading to health inequalities and lessened life chances for black and Asian communities.

“I am working with colleagues in West Yorkshire to take this forward and translate this work into action. Structural racism is embedded in the gap in outcomes in employment, housing, health, attainment and life opportunities for black people, a gap that remains wide and needs to be addressed. Systemic racism reflects the way of being for black people in our society, the everyday acts that create difference and hostility.”

The chief executive went on to relay the experience of a senior black colleague who poignantly told him ‘the two-metre rule isn’t a new thing for me’ when discussing social distancing on public transport.

“As we live through the pandemic, it can be difficult for us to connect as a workforce in the way we usually do. Calderdale Council staff operate as one team; all our surveys, conversations and consultations highlight our pride in this borough, our sense of companionship and mutual support. We care for each other, but we are living through times where the light has shone into the injustice and inequalities in our communities at all levels.

“I know many of our black and Asian colleagues are hurting right now. Are we as a council doing enough for our workforce and our community to tackle injustice? Not yet. There has been a greater focus on these issues in the council and in our place than ever before.”

Mr Tuddenham highlights work that has been done to tackle entrenched inequality in Calderdale since 2018, including investment in the Park and Warley ward and the Active Calderdale pilot scheme to increase participation in physical activity and improve health outcomes.

Additional secure provision for asylum seekers has also been made during the pandemic and an online Q&A session for black and Asian communities attracted 2,500 viewers.

The council has also committed to recruitment drives aimed at BAME groups, and has seen an increase in staff that reflect the diversity of the area. The recruitment team have worked on issuing inclusive job profiles, including BAME staff on interview panels and targeting under-represented communities. There are also leadership programmes for BAME staff.

He ends the letter by accepting personal responsibility for ‘not doing enough’ to encourage more equality.

“This starts with me as chief executive - this is about all of us, but I need to start by recognising my responsibility in all this. I can do more. I have fought for better outcomes, sometimes at regional and national level in my role as lead on migration for Yorkshire and Humber.

“I have supported and facilitated the actions taken above since I have been in post. But it’s not enough. I have not made enough time to listen, and I have not always stepped forward to take my responsibility to be the change. I will aspire to do more and be the senior white voice in the room, with others, who doesn’t wait for BAME colleagues to do the heavy lifting on calling out racial injustice seen every day in our lives. Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues are understandably tired of doing this, they have been doing it all their lives.

“It’s not enough to call out white privilege, but it’s a start. So is recognising it.

“If white colleagues want to be part of this change with me then be an ally. That may start with reading something. Maybe ‘White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism’ by Robin DiAngelo. The book that made a huge impact upon me was Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Then speaking is better than silence. Don’t be worried about saying the wrong thing. But it’s equally important to listen, and after that do, and then do again.

“Symbols of support and solidarity are important, but not enough alone. Lighting Wainhouse Tower purple in recent days reflects support and solidarity for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. But our challenge collectively, all of us, is to harness this moment, from this terrible pandemic, to address the pandemic of racism, which has lasted for centuries. We have an opportunity to reset and rebuild better. The opportunity will never be as great again.”

The letter ends with 26 questions for staff to answer on the subject of equal opportunities and race relations.